On Board a Ship to Hell
October 24, 1944. 5 o’clock p.m. South China Sea.
The nearly 7,000-ton Japanese freighter, Arisan Maru, is churning toward Formosa. Packed in the stifling heat of the ship’s holds are 1,782 mostly American and some Allied war prisoners of the Empire of Japan. The men are destined for forced labor camps.
Seeing only an unmarked enemy vessel, a U.S. Navy submarine, the USS Shark, fires three torpedoes. Direct hit. Split in two, the Arisan Maru slips beneath the waves in less than two hours. While most of the POWs escape the sinking ship, they are left to die on the open sea. The Japanese navy attempts no rescue. Only nine men survive. It is the largest loss of life at sea in American history.
Among the dead is 42 year-old Private First Class Frederick William Elkes, a 17-year veteran of the U.S. Army Air Force, 17th Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group. Stationed in the Philippines, the South Wheeling boy who grew up on McColloch Street, was captured during the fall of Bataan. Read More